Donald Trump’s unexpected presidential victory has already prompted a considerable body of political analysis, which will no doubt be extended and elaborated over the coming years as we all get to grips with the forces that propelled him to victory (or, conversely, which consigned Clinton to defeat).
In this post I want to comment on the geographic dimensions of Trumpsim. In particular how Trump’s victory reflects existing local geographies, while also potentially shaping global geographies in the future. I am particularly interested in the following two aspects:
- The urban-rural divide, which pits predominantly Democratic urban areas against predominantly rural Republican areas; and
- The consequences of self-sorting, whereby disaffected Democratic voters migrate to other countries.
To highlight the urban-rural divide, I think it’s useful to hone in on a state like Pennsylvania, which Trump managed to carry by a small margin (which was somewhat surprising in a historical context, given that the last time Pennsylvania was carried by a Republican presidential candidate was way back in 1988).
Now consider a map of population density in Pennsylvania.
Striking huh? Population density is strongly positively correlated with levels of Democratic support. And from an initial look the same pattern seems to be present in many of the other swing states that Trump won over. The main conclusion is that Republican voters are considerably more likely to be drawn from suburban if not rural areas, while Democratic voters reside in urban areas.
Some of you might be thinking that urbanization may simply be a proxy for — rather than a cause of — political preferences. While this may be valid, the degree to which political preferences coalesce around geographical differences is nonetheless interesting. The reason being that this urban-rural divide is a telling backdrop to increasing political polarization, as illustrated in the figure below.
It’s hard enough to engage with people who hold different political views, let alone when many of them live many miles away. My point here is that geographic concentrations of political support may contribute to increasing political polarization. They may even support the formation of isolated ideological bubbles, within which political supporters (of both sides) feel “normal”. In these bubbles opportunities for engagement and even rapproachment between parties becomes less likely. Some might argue that the urban-rural divide in US politics is nothing new. There is some truth to this, and there’s obviously a need for more research and analysis, which I’ll leave to people who are more knowledgeable on these matters than I. The key point, however, is that geography and politics are really strongly intertwined, and that may not be good for fostering engagement.
The second geographic dimension to Trump’s victory was something that struck me when I was perusing Google analytic trends in the aftermath of Trump’s victory. I was interested to know whether there was a change in Google search trends for “moving to New Zealand”. There was as it turns out; the figure below shows worldwide trends for the phrase “moving to New Zealand” over the last five years. Notice anything in particular? Yes, two spikes; one small one in the wake of Brexit and another — more recent and much, much larger — spike in the wake of Trump’s victory.
To hone in on the latter, I next I filtered these results to searches from IP addresses registered in the US. This only served to strengthen the pattern shown above.
And then I zoomed in on trends during the last seven days.
By now it should seem obvious: Trump’s election has prompted an enormous spike in the number of people in the US who are searching the phrase “moving to New Zealand”. And I do mean enormous: The spike is unprecedented in recent history by a factor of about 30.
More interesting from a geographical perspective, however, is the fact that Google also provides a state-by-state breakdown on the origins of the Google searches, as shown below. Here, we can see that searches were higher (in relative terms) in states like Oregon and Colorado, for example. I can think of two reasons why this may be the case: 1) there are a large number of Democratic voters in these states and 2) they have similar natural environments to New Zealand.
It’s interesting to compare the map above to that below, which shows the winner of Presidential votes in each state.
Again, the spatial patterns are rather striking. It seems that Trump’s victory has prompted many people who live in predominantly Democratic states to consider moving to New Zealand. The degree to which this flows through into actual migration is, of course, a separate question, and one that we’ll only know the answer to in a couple of years’ time.
At first glance this seems to provide evidence of “self-sorting” at both the local and international levels. That is, people with similar preferences are tending to concentrate in particular locations. And this is something that may have real ramifications. Think of the close elections in states like Florida, for example. Even a relatively small exodus of Democratic voters from key states to countries like New Zealand, Australia, and Canada might be sufficient to flip a state from one candidate to the next (NB: Google searches for moving to the latter two countries also spiked in the aftermath of Trump’s victory).
I can understand why people might move in response to such events and, in fact, I’d probably consider doing the same. From New Zealand’s perspective the ramifications of such migration are relatively benign, and even positive. On the other hand, I can’t shake the bad feeling I have when the direct outcome of a political process (as opposed to indirect consequences, such as changes in policy settings) is sufficiently traumatic to cause people to migrate to another country.
From a U.S. perspective this also looks rather bad, unless you’re the most ardent Republican supporter who just wants everyone else to sod off. I personally don’t think there’s many people like this.
Regardless of what you happen to think about Trump, this data suggests that he has alienated people to a sufficient degree that they are considering upping sticks and moving to more tolerant climes. That of course may have ramifications for migration, housing, and transport Down Under.
Interested in hearing your thoughts.